part of the Gulag Archipelago

“Excerpted from Volume I, Part I – The Prison Industry – Chapter 2. The History of Our Sewage Disposal System

“In his essay ‘How to Organize the Competition’ (January 7 and 10, 1918), V.I.Lenin proclaimed the common, united purpose of ‘purging the Russian land of all kinds of harmful insects.’ And under the term insects he included not only all class enemies but also ‘workers malingering at their work’ – for example, the typesetters of the Petrograd Party printing shops. (That is what time does. It is difficult for us nowadays to understand how workers who had just become dictators were immediately inclined to malinger at work they were doing for themselves.) And then again: ‘In what block of a big city, in what factory, in what village…are there not…saboteurs who call themselves intellectuals?’ True, the forms of insect-purging which Lenin conceived of in this essay were most varies: in some places they would be placed under arrest, in other places set to cleaning latrines; in some, ‘after having served their time in punishment cells, they would be handed yellow tickets’; in others, parasites would be shot; elsewhere you could take your pick of imprisonment ‘or punishment at forced labor of the hardest kind.’ Even though he perceived and suggested the basic directions punishment should take, Vladimir Ilyich proposed that ‘communes and communities’ should compete to find the best methods of purging.

“It is not possible for us at this time to fully investigate exactly who fell within the broad definition of insects; the population of Russia was too heterogeneous and encompassed small, special groups, entirely superfluous and, today, forgotten. The people in the local zemstvo self-governing bodies in the provinces were, of course, insects. People in the cooperative movement were also insects, as were all owners of their own homes. There were not a few insects among the teachers in the gymnasiums. The church parish councils were made up almost exclusively of insects, and it was insects, of course, who sang in church choirs. All priests were insects – and monks and nuns even more so. And all those Tolstoyans who, when they undertook to serve the Soviet government on, for example, the railroads, refused to sign the required oath to defend the Soviet government with gun in hand thereby showed themselves to be insects too. (We will later see some of them on trial.) The railroads were particularly important, for there were indeed many insects hidden beneath railroad uniforms, and they had to be rooted out and some of them slapped down. And telegraphers, for some reason, were, for the most part, inveterate insects who had no sympathy for the Soviets. Nor could you say a good word about Vikzhel, the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Union of Railroad Workers, nor about the other trade unions, which were often filled with insects hostile to the working class.

“Just those groups we have so far enumerated represent an enormous number of people – several years’ worth of purge activity.

“In addition, how many kinds of cursed intellectuals there were – restless students and a variety of eccentrics, truth-seekers, and holy fools, of whom even Peter the Great had tried in vain to purge Russia and who are always a hindrance to a well-ordered, strict regime.

“It would have been impossible to carry out this hygienic purging, especially under wartime conditions, if they had had to follow outdated legal processes and normal judicial procedures. And so an entirely new form was adopted: extrajudicial reprisal, and this thankless job was self-sacrificingly assumed by the Cheka, the Sentinel of the Revolution, which was the only punitive organ in human history that combined in one set of hands investigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execution of the verdict.”

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 An Experiment In Literary Investigation, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, copyright 1973

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